CONCORD, N.C. -- Starting as a high school intern in the Hendrick Motorsports chassis shop, Kevin Meendering worked his way up the ranks of the organization and has now been named a crew chief in the NASCAR Cup Series.
Not only has he moved up to the premier series, he's been paired with seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson.
"I feel like I’ve earned this position," Meendering said. "I’ve worked hard and it’s my goal to take this team and take Jimmie and win that eighth championship for him. That is the biggest thing. It’s a little surreal to be put in this position, but I’m excited. There is a lot of history with Jimmie and this No. 48 team and just to be a part of it is exciting.”
Growing up across the street from Berlin Raceway near Grand Rapids, Michigan, Meendering's passion for motorsports began at a young age with both his uncle and father working on local short track cars.
The family's relocation to North Carolina years later set the scene for Meendering's career path. Following high school, he enrolled in college and earned a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, all while continuing to move up within the Hendrick Motorsports organization.
By the time he graduated from college, Meendering had moved from cleaning floors and cutting parts to fabricating and building suspension parts, and then to a research and development position.
In 2008, Meendering joined the No. 24 team with four-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon as an assistant engineer. Throughout his three years with the No. 24 team, they earned one win, 40 top-five finishes, 61 top-10s and six pole awards.
Come 2011, Meendering became the lead engineer on Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s No. 88 Chevrolet, working under Steve Letarte. He served in that role for five years, helping the team earn eight wins, 52, top-fives, 96 top-10s and four poles.
Then came the opportunity for Meendering to take his career to the next level.
"In 2016, Dale (Earnhardt Jr.) gave me the opportunity to move of to JR Motorsports and be Elliott Sadler’s crew chief, so that’s what I've done the last three years," Meendering said.
And in those three years, Meendering has led the No. 1 Chevrolet to three wins, 38 top-five finishes, 75 top-10s and the 2017 regular season title. Sadler is also currently a playoff contender in the NASCAR Xfinity Series playoffs.
After three years at Hendrick Motorsports affiliate JR Motorsports, taking the No. 48 crew chief position is a sort of homecoming for Meendering.
"I was here for 16 years so I have a lot of relationships here," Meendering said. "A lot has changed in three years for sure, but it’s definitely my home. There’s a lot of people here, it's a family environment, so it definitely feels like coming home."
And while earning an Xfinity Series championship is 100 percent his main focus right now, Meendering has looked ahead to the transition back to Hendrick Motorsports.
"I couldn’t think of a better situation to be in," the crew chief admitted. "I think Jimmie, obviously he’s a seven-time champion, he’s one of the best that’s ever been. Just his professionalism, how he carries himself and just his personality, he’s just so down to earth, he’s so easy to talk to, so I think that’s going to make it very easy to work with him. We’re going to hit the ground running."
When asked if there's any trepidation with coming in and working with a seven-time Cup Series champion following his 17-year partnership with crew chief Chad Knaus, Meendering shook his head.
"Knowing the caliber of driver that Jimmie is and just how he can put the team on his shoulder and then just all of the resources we have here at Hendrick Motorsports, I think it makes it a lot easier," Meendering said.“I by no means feel like 2019 is going to be a rebuilding year for the No. 48," he continued. "We have full intentions to come out swinging and competing for wins. Obviously, yes, it’s a high-pressure situation, but I feel like with the preparation and resources we have here, that is a big help for reducing that. You just have so many people surrounding you that you don’t feel like it’s all on you."
And with one goal in mind -- to win -- Meendering looks forward to inserting himself into the No. 48 team dynamics.
“I think I’m very hard working, very driven," Meendering said. "I want to win races just like Jimmie does. We didn’t reach this level just being complacent."
When it all comes down to it, a kid who grew up across the street from a local short track now has a chance to compete at the top level of NASCAR.
Meendering said it's all he could ask for.
"It’s a dream come true. It’s something you always dream about and you hope for and it’s something you work hard for every day. It’s something I strive for. It’s just a dream come true. I’m excited.”